The Five Freedoms

What is Animal Welfare?

Animal Welfare has long been discussed, defended and championed by animal lovers worldwide, but – aside from referring to the “well-being” of a non-human animal – what does it actually mean?

The key ideas behind animal welfare are:

The right of an animal under the care of a human, to have protection from unnecessary suffering.

The responsibility of a human to protect animals under his/her care from unnecessary suffering.

The Five Freedoms

The Five Freedoms is a framework that was established in 1979 by the UK Farm Animal Welfare Council in response to an analysis of animal husbandry practices in farming. This framework defines “ideal states” for animals under human care and creates a tangible basis from which the physical and mental state of an animal can be considered and protected, so has been adopted by animal welfare organisations worldwide.

The Five Freedoms

Freedom from Hunger and Thirst
Freedom from Hunger and Thirst

By ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigour.

Five Freedoms - Freedom from Discomfort
Freedom from Discomfort

By providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area.

Five Freedoms - Freedom from Pain, Injury or Disease
Freedom from Pain, Injury or Disease

By prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment.

Freedom to Express Normal Behaviour
Freedom to Express Normal Behaviour

By providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal's own kind.

Five Freedoms - Freedom from Fear & Distress
Freedom from Fear and Distress

By ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering.

Wording taken from the Farm Animal Welfare Council

How Do the Five Freedoms Relate to Globalteer?

Globalteer partners with various animal shelters and wildlife refuges in South America and Southeast Asia, which house animals either temporarily (while they are waiting to be adopted or released back into the wild), or long term (where re-homing/release isn’t an option). The framework is easily applicable to shelters: we can check our partners are providing sufficient food and water, comfortable living conditions, adequate medical care, space and opportunities to exercise and behave as they would in the wild (at least to some extent), and conditions that promote mental well-being.

How Do We Implement the Five Freedoms at PAWS?

In the case of PAWS Mobile Veterinary Clinic, however, animals are only in our care for a matter of minutes (during consultations) or a few hours (during surgeries), so on the face of it, protecting the Freedoms seems to be out of our power. We don’t have the resources to feed every animal in every village around Cusco and we can’t gather up all the dogs at night so they can sleep inside. But as an animal welfare organisation, we still see it as our responsibility to do what we can and there is a lot we can do!

The five freedoms - principles to improve animal welfare"
happy dog cusco peru"
Providing Access to Veterinary Care in Rural Cusco Villages"
1. Freedom from Hunger and Thirst

Our veterinary team takes time to help owners understand the importance of good nutrition and access to clean water for their animals. This is sometimes extra difficult in our communities, as a lot of people don’t have a great grasp of what good human nutrition looks like, let alone how nutritional needs of humans and varied animal species differ. You won’t see people in the mountain villages drinking a prescribed eight glasses of water a day either, so trying to help them understand that their dogs and cats need clean, fresh water everyday – and shouldn’t just be drinking from puddles on the street – is a long-term job. We realise we can’t change people’s attitudes to feeding and watering their animals overnight, but we will continue to provide education on the subject and little by little, we can make big changes!

2. Freedom from Discomfort

Many of the dogs we work with spend much time on the streets, which is a big part of the reason we’re working with them. It is very unusual for owners to allow dogs in the house overnight and many animals have to find their own place to sleep. The villages we work in lie at altitudes between 3,500 and 4,000m.a.s.l., so it can get really cold overnight, and rains can be relentless during the wet season. Since we don’t have the resources to build kennels for every dog, our focus for this Freedom is around education. We teach the children about their dogs’ needs, including the need for a warm, dry and safe place to sleep, every night.

3. Freedom from Pain, Injury or Disease

Our mobile clinic takes veterinary services to communities where they don’t already exist, so this freedom could be seen as our key purpose! In this way, we help prevent diseases through vaccination and regular parasite treatment. When dogs are brought to us that are sick or injured, we provide the necessary treatments and analgesics. We also work to educate people and encourage them not to let their dogs roam free, especially near main roads, to reduce the chance of injury.

4. Freedom to Express Normal Behaviour

This freedom involves a difficult balancing act for us. Currently, over 80% of the dogs we have registered are free roaming, which some would argue is the best way for dogs to express their natural behaviours. However, dozens or hundreds of dogs roaming free in a small area, especially one populated by people, causes all sorts of problems including illness/injury, rampant population growth and issues for the human population. In other words, unrestricted exercise of this Freedom negatively impacts the other Freedoms in this list. Changing attitudes around the responsibilities of pet ownership – so that dogs are not left to roam, but still get the exercise and space they need – is another long-term task for us. We want to see fewer loose dogs, but at we certainly don’t want to see them tied up 24/7.

5. Freedom from Fear and Distress

Our experienced veterinary team works to ensure that animals are calm and comfortable during treatments and operations at the clinic. In the case of overly scared or aggressive dogs, treatment is not forced on them, but owners are coached in the proper administration of medications and alternative methods of examination are explored. Education about dogs’ needs, care and welfare is part of our work around this Freedom, to ensure dogs are comfortable and happy at home.

The five freedoms - improving animal welfare"
providing free health care for cats and dogs in Cusco Peru"
Dog in Grass Cusco Peru"
Promoting the Five Freedoms

When animals are in the care of humans, management of the Five Freedoms is always going to be something of a balancing act. However, embracing the concepts inherent to them ensures that animal welfare is at the forefront of our work. We will continue working with our communities to keep improving the treatment of animals and foster longer happier lives for our four-legged friends!